Neuroscience Senior Exercise

The Pomona College Catalog states: “Each student's major will culminate in a senior exercise designed to deepen student understanding and integrate the content and method of his or her field of study. Ideally, the exercise will lead the student to synthesize the diverse courses he or she has chosen for the concentration. Although the exercise will differ from field to field of study, each will require the student to demonstrate mastery of the methodology, principles, or practice of the chosen field.”

The senior exercise in neuroscience will consist of two parts. The first part will consist of NEUR 190: Senior Seminar in the Fall. The second part will consist of the senior thesis. Students can satisfy the senior thesis requirement by producing either a grant proposal (NEUR 191: Library Thesis in the Spring) or an experimental thesis (NEUR 194a in the Fall and 194b in the Spring). One of the goals of NEUR 190 will be to prepare you for the senior thesis. One way this will be accomplished is by doing an in-depth literature review on a well-defined issue in neuroscience. A literature review is a critical evaluation of published literature in a topical area of neuroscience. According to the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (4th Edition): “By organizing, integrating, and evaluating previously published material, the author of a review article considers the progress of current research toward clarifying a problem. In a sense, a review article is tutorial in that the author:

  1. defines and clarifies the problem
  2. summarizes previous investigations in order to inform the reader of the state of current research;
  3. identifies relations, contradictions, gaps, and inconsistencies in the literature;
  4. suggests the next step or steps in solving the problem.”

Your senior thesis will typically follow from your literature review, so the topic you choose for your literature review will likely be the focus of your senior exercise for the academic year. Therefore, you will want to put some careful thought into choosing an appropriate topic. For many, this is the most difficult part of the senior exercise. In selecting a topic, you may want to consider which courses, or topics within a course, you found most interesting. Look for references from that course that will lead you to more reading on that topic. You might also want to look through issues of Science, Nature, Nature Neuroscience, Trends in Neuroscience, Annual Review of Neuroscience, and Journal of Neuroscience to find current topics of interest in neuroscience. Most importantly, you should talk to faculty about your ideas for a literature review and how to go about selecting a topic. Although your literature review does not necessarily have to be a direct investigation of the nervous system, the implications for understanding the nervous system should be perfectly clear and elaborated on in your thesis. The goal of the literature review should be to enhance our understanding of the nervous system. One test of whether this goal was achieved might be to examine the literature cited in the review; the vast majority of the cited studies should come from neuroscience journals.

Once you have selected a general topic, the next step will be to define and limit the area of your review. You may not know whether or not a topic is too broad or too narrow until you get into the literature (your advisor can probably help you with this). One way to find out quickly is to do a computer search--if you are using correct search words, the number of articles obtained from your search is a good indicator of whether you have defined your topic too narrowly or too broadly.

In addition to selecting a topic for your senior exercise, you will also need to select an advisor. Usually, the advisor is selected because she or he represents an area of neuroscience that you are interested in pursuing for your senior exercise. You may also want to consider which faculty you work best with, since the bulk of the work for your senior exercise is defined by agreements between you and your advisor. Furthermore, your advisor will evaluate your work.

Experimental or grant proposal theses may be supervised by any member of the Neuroscience Steering Committee (NSC). Members of NSC are: Elizabeth Glater, Karl Johnson, Jonathan King, Rachel Levin, Richard Lewis, Karen Parfitt, and Nicole Weekes.

Since neuroscience is an interdisciplinary field, there are many different formats and styles used in the neuroscientific literature. You will need to agree on a specific style and format with your advisor. As a default you should consider the format in the Journal of neuroscience's Instructions for Authors. You should also consult the Society for Neuroscience's (SFN) Responsible Guidelines Regarding Scientific Communication.

We have broken down the literature review process into several steps and we have established a deadline for each step of the process. The completed work is due at 4:45 p.m. in your advisor's office. How well you meet each deadline will, in part, determine your grade. 

The deadline for the final draft of the literature review is not negotiable since it is a college policy for all written work to be completed by the last day of classes for the semester. Final drafts not turned in by the college deadline will result in a failing grade for NEUR 190.

*Acts of plagiarism will be reported to the Dean and result in 0 points.